Auckland City took a stranglehold of Group B in the O-League with a dramatic 3-2 win over Vanuatu club Amicale at Kiwitea Street in Auckland last night.
The catch-up fixture was a repeat of last year's final and lived up to expectations, with City needing an 87th minute goal from Adam Dickinson to seal the victory and go five points clear of Amicale and Papua New Guinea club Hekari United.
Auckland coach Ramon Tribulietx was relieved to take maximum points.
"It was one of those games that could've gone one way or the other and it went our way. We were a little lucky in some areas,'' he said.
"We're back from a long break and we played on Saturday in a tough match so we knew we were going to be a bit tired.
"I'm really impressed with the overall effort. After conceding the second goal we got some strength from I don't know where, and worked hard to find that third goal. It was a bit of a funny one but we'll take it.''
In perfect playing conditions, Amicale stunned the defending champions going ahead in the 23rd minute.
It was City defender James Pritchett who inadvertently turned the ball into his own net after Joachim Waroi's initial shot was parried onto the bar by Jacob Spoonley.
Buoyed by the goal, the visitors should have doubled their lead on 35 minutes when striker Fenedy Masauvakalo tried to be too cute with Gibson Daudau's cross and flicked the ball inches wide.
They were made to pay as Spanish import Manel Exposito converted from the penalty spot on 40 minutes before tapping in City's second just before the break after nice build up play by Daniel Koprivcic, who had earlier won penalty.
The 2011 runners-up pressed high in the second half and had their reward after 76 minutes when Alick Maemae's swerving strike from the edge of the area had Spoonley fooled.
But a bigger mistake was to follow at the other end as Dickinson's eventual winner went straight through the hands of Amicale goalkeeper Ernest Bong, who was left kicking the post in anger.
Phillemon John, standing in for coach Luke Eroi who was in Solomon Islands for personal reasons, said it was an unfortunate way to end the match.
"There was a lot of planning that went into this and I was happy that all of the boys did their job. We missed that goal but it's a team game. All we can do now is focus on our next matches and hope the other teams can also put pressure on Auckland.''
With four points, Amicale sit in second place above Hekari United on goal difference. Cellar-dwellers Koloale have yet to pick up a result.
The reigning champions meanwhile have enjoyed three straight wins to match cross-town rivals Waitakere United who are favoured to top Group A.
It is the first time the two New Zealand teams have been split across Group A and B of the O-League.
The next full round of O-League action will take place on February 17-18 with all eight sides involved.